The story of Archie Moore is, above all else, one of perseverance. While generally not considered part of the famous “Murderers Row” gang — a group of skilled and highly avoided black boxers in the 1940s and 50s who never received title shots — Moore deserves honorary membership, considering how long he had to wait for his just due. By the time he finally received a chance at a world crown, Archie had an incredible 150 pro fights on his ledger and was 36-years-old. No doubt a man of lesser determination and strength of character would have given up long before.
Though in fact, he did, and more than once, but Moore’s multiple retirements were primarily expressions of frustration and never lasted long. After all, he had gone through so much during the early years of his career — including acute appendicitis and a perforated ulcer which almost killed him — that quitting just didn’t make sense. Instead he became prizefighting’s greatest “Methuselah,” battling on until he was past fifty years old, and in the process amassing the most knockouts of any elite-level boxer in the history of the sport.
Only after he had been fighting professionally for seventeen years did Moore finally get that precious chance at a world title and when he did, he made good, striking durable Joey Maxim repeatedly with his powerful right hand to win a fifteen round decision and the light heavyweight championship of the world. Having finally reached the summit of his profession, one might have expected Moore to take a well-earned rest, but instead he worked to capitalize on his achievement and finally make some real money. Over the next six years he competed forty-three times, mostly non-title matches, along with several defenses of his world title and two unsuccessful attempts to annex the heavyweight crown.
As the end of 1958 approached, it had been a typical twelve month span for the prolific Moore, eight wins on the road plus a draw with tough heavyweight Howard King. A title defense against Yvon Durelle in Montreal seemed like a good way to cap off another successful year. After all, New Brunswick’s Durelle, despite 79 pro wins and being ranked number three in the world, was regarded as no threat to the champion, a fact reflected by Montreal’s “Famous Forum” being barely half full for the match, and by The Montreal Gazette stating that sports fans “snicker when the name of Yvon Durelle is placed alongside that of Archie Moore.”
But any guffaws were extinguished barely a minute into the first round when a right hand from “The Fighting Fisherman” slammed flush on Moore’s jaw and sent him crashing to the floor so hard his head bounced off the canvas twice. As Archie would later say, “The first time he put me down, I hit my head first, then my feet. I was laying there, and I thought, ‘Wow, this guy can hit.'”
For a moment it looked as if “Ageless Archie” might be finished then and there, but the badly hurt champion managed to just beat the count, only to be chased all over the ring and tagged repeatedly with heavy blows. He rose quickly from a second knockdown, but Durelle then promptly floored Moore a third time with another clean right hand. Again, Moore looked done for the night but, again, he just barely beat the count. Still, it appeared undeniable that Father Time had finally caught up to one of boxing’s oldest champions, and in most sudden and dramatic fashion. He was one solid punch away from being knocked out and a full minute remained in a thrilling opening round.
Durelle did his level best to end it, but with thirty seconds left it was the challenger who initiated a clinch after Moore connected with an uppercut. The Acadian’s great chance had slipped away and Archie was recovered enough to land a hard right of his own just before the bell. His legs looked rubbery as he was helped back to his corner, but, incredibly, seconds later the 42-year-old veteran of over two hundred fights was smiling and telling his handlers he was just fine.
And indeed Moore held his own in the second, clocking Durelle more than once with strong right crosses. But if anyone thought the opening round some kind of anomaly, the dangerous Acadian proved otherwise, reasserting himself in the third and putting Moore on the defensive. They traded punishing blows on mostly even terms in a ferocious fourth round, but in the fifth Durelle hurt Moore with a vicious right hand to the body before chasing the champion to the ropes and dropping him again with a crushing right to the jaw.
Finding himself on the canvas for a fourth time, how easy it would have been for the old warrior to surrender. Who would have faulted him? But any thoughts of quitting in the mind of “The Old Mongoose” were of the most fleeting kind. On his feet at the count of six, Moore was clearly in desperate shape, but the champion’s courage and conditioning kept him vertical and firing back as Durelle tried to finish it.
Moore is rightfully revered primarily for his caginess, longevity and power, but while he had suffered knockout losses in the past to Ezzard Charles, Floyd Patterson, Jimmy Bivins and Eddie Booker, on this night he proved his chin and recuperative powers were otherworldly. With thirty seconds left in the round, Moore landed a series of sharp jabs and then a huge right hand that staggered Durelle. The champion followed up with a left hook and two more rights, and now it was the Canadian who needed to halt the action with a clinch. Moore got home another heavy right just before the bell.
This was the turning point. How deflating it must have been for Durelle to sit in his corner after five incredibly hard-fought rounds, knowing he had hurt and knocked down his opponent several times, but knowing too he had failed to seize control. His confidence likely took a further hit when he looked across the ring and saw the champion had chosen to forego his stool, Moore standing nonchalantly in his corner as if five rounds of brutal warfare and four knockdowns were just another day at the office.
So perhaps the crowd should not have been as astonished as it was to see Moore seize the initiative in round six, controlling the distance and pace of the bout with a strong left jab and sharper footwork, while deflecting Durelle’s attacks with pivots or by stepping inside to smother his offence. It was still a close and fast-paced round, but now it was Archie who appeared the fresher, more confident fighter, and it was clear he was the one landing the more telling blows.
And in round seven the tables officially turned as Moore, after getting home a series of jarring left jabs, staggered the challenger with his potent right before scoring a knockdown of his own at the end of the round. To his credit, Durelle refused to give up and he carried the fight to Moore in the eighth, but in the process he was being caught coming in with quick lefts and follow-up rights. Moore was timing Durelle’s right hand now, slipping and countering it with his own right, and it was the champion’s shots which were doing damage.
Durelle’s last hurrah came in the ninth. Bulling forward he stung Moore with a vicious right to the body; four more rights got home, two to the head and two to the body as the crowd rose up and roared, but then the champion halted the assault with a cuffing left to the jaw. Again, Moore’s recuperative powers came to the fore as he took command and backed Durelle up, trading power shots with the younger man and getting the better of the exchanges.
It had been a wild, glorious, punch-filled brawl but round ten marked its denouement, even as Durelle continued to throw heavy leather, hoping to hit the jackpot again with that sledgehammer right. Instead, a series of pinpoint blows had the gallant challenger all but out on his feet before a left hook sent him to the canvas for the second time. The bell rang before the challenger could be counted out but the contest was all but over; Durelle had nothing left to give.
Still, the “The Fighting Fisherman” started the final round aggressively, throwing loaded right hands, but Archie rolled with the punches and then pivoted to put Durelle off balance and wide open for his counter shots which sent the tough Acadian down for a third time. With blood gushing from both his nose and a cut over his right eye, the brave challenger got to his feet and fought on, actually landing a hard left hand, before a left and a right from Moore decked him again, this time for the count. And so ended one of the most savage and thrilling battles in the history of the light heavyweight division.
In the twilight of his long and historic career, the indefatigable Archie Moore had added to it perhaps its most memorable chapter, as well as a rousing and violent discourse on its greatest themes: courage, resilience, and yes, perseverance. A lesser fighter would never have survived the opening frame, and only a truly great champion, albeit one in this case who was years past his prime, could have slugged it out with the rugged Durelle for ten more brutal rounds to then emerge from the struggle victorious.
Up to this point Montreal had seen more than its share of great fights and fighters over the decades. Beau Jack, Joe Jeannette, Ted “Kid” Lewis, Sixto Escobar, Jake LaMotta, Sandy Saddler, Kid Chocolate: all had plied their trade in the “Sin City” of the north. But doubtless none of the countless battlers who had passed through “The City Of Saints” had ever given boxing fans a more dramatic and heart-stopping clash than was witnessed on a cold winter night on St. Catherine Street over sixty years ago. The wild slugfest has only grown in stature over the years and is generally regarded as one of the greatest fights of all time.
Despite falling to Moore in only three rounds in their rematch eight months later, that fight also held in Montreal, Yvon Durelle’s performance in their first epic clash made “The Fighting Fisherman” something of a cult hero in Canada. Moore would later speak with admiration for his former rival: “I had fought a lot of great punchers and I could always handle them pretty well, but this guy – oh boy, he hit me harder than I’d ever been hit in my life.”
With the victory, Moore notched knockout number 126, surpassing Young Stribling‘s record and establishing himself as boxing’s all-time KO king. And Archie, who gave motivational speeches at schools throughout America after he finally retired, often showed audiences an old film of his famous war with the brave Acadian. They would watch the movie and then Archie would stand and turn to the astonished audience and declare, “See? No matter how out of it you are, you can always get up, come back, and be a winner. Never give up!” — Michael Carbert